Review: Digeo Moxi HD DVR

Take note DVR makers: If we get another mediocre box in the mail, we might just take a claw hammer to it. We’re fed up with the steady stream of lackluster TV-recording boxes. But amid this ocean of crapulence, a handful of DVR companies are creating something innovative.

Digeo’s Moxi HD DVR sports a slick, Emmy-winning (seriously) user interface and all the commercial-skipping accouterments of competitors like TiVo. It even ditches a monthly bill in favor of flat pricing. And due to a recent firmware update, the Moxi also grants access to online video and music.

So, why haven’t we taken a claw hammer to our TiVo? Though the Moxi brings a lot of interesting features to the table, it doesn’t quite give us everything we want in a DVR.

On the outside, the Moxi is rather unimaginative. It’s rectangular, nondescript and black, just like any of the dozens of components parked next to our HDTV. For some reason Digeo didn’t spring for better materials — unfortunate given the Moxi’s high price — but, for what it’s worth, there are some innovative features concealed inside.

Setup was easy, courtesy of the Moxi’s connectivity options. We used the box’s HDMI port to connect to the office big screen, but the Moxi offers component, optical and composite connections. There’s also traditional cable co-ax input, CableCard connectivity and an eSATA port for cracking into locally stored music and movies. Between these core-connectivity options and an upgradeable 500-GB HD, the Moxi makes for a legit TiVo competitor.

But the big difference is the UI. That aforementioned Emmy? Totally deserved. Digeo outfitted the Moxi with a stunning full-HD user interface, full of slick transitions and responsive performance. Unfortunately, sleek visuals don’t conquer all. Basics like surfing through the program guide (or accessing a previously recorded show) took a lot of hunting and pecking through a menu tree. Though we never truly got lost in the Moxi’s dazzling menus, there are a few tasks that grew tiring. Finding pre-recorded shows and getting them to play took searching, highlighting, selecting Play, confirming that you selected Play, and then finally watching.

Unlike our cable-provided DVR, the Moxi also brings online video from YouTube, Hulu and Netflix, as well as access to online music and photo services from Rhapsody and Flickr. Access to this content is a huge value boost for the Moxi, but it comes with a list of shortcomings. While the Moxi’s DVR functions are punchy and polished, the online video is actually a funky workaround from PlayOn. Digeo was savvy enough to cover the $40 licensing fee that usually comes with PlayOn’s software, but the presentation is a far cry from the buttery smoothness of a proprietary app. This awkward middle step kills the fun of mainstays like YouTube — especially when Moxi’s workaround nearly cripples must-haves like search functions. We can’t fault Digeo for pumping up the Moxi’s value with this addition, but when faced with the option of watching an episode of The Office through Moxi’s patchworked Hulu interface or our cable provider’s on-demand service, we went with the simplified cable interface.

For the price, it’s hardly the best DVR we’ve ever used, and compared to competing devices, it’s somewhat of a rough sell — especially when online video is quickly becoming the norm for DVRs, set-top boxes and connected TVs. Of course, the cool thing about a flexible device like the Moxi is that a fix is just a firmware update away. Us? We’re not ready to drop the hammer on it just yet, but Moxie had better update its box soon. Consider this your one warning, guys.

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